Heuristics

This is a short story I wrote while trying to write something else.  I think it’s kind of fun though, so I decided to put it out here for Fun Friday. Enjoy and let me know what you think.

Heuristics, is the term computer engineers use for evaluating and learning from patterns. I work with Homeland Security using heuristics to identify bad guys by comparing data points from all over the world.

Sometimes heuristics make perfect sense.

When a rural address orders titanium bearings and ammonium nitrate, it’s just a farmer. When a suburban address orders titanium bearings and ammonium nitrate, send in the CIA to capture the terrorist cell.

When a private pilot makes an emergency landing at a strip in Southern Texas where a rented limo is waiting, send in the FBI to collect the drug lord.

Sometimes heuristics don’t make a bit of sense, but still correlate.

Mob bosses’ girlfriends will gain weight the week before their bosses do a major import.

Middle Eastern terrorists will eat excessive amounts of Chinese takeout their first few days in America.

I collect the data and find the patterns. As the project grew I bought and set up new servers, always needing something bigger and faster. Soon my algorithms were accessing millions of data points a minute. As the data points increased, so did the arrests. This was my pattern, my heuristic.

After capturing a hundred bad guys from dozens of illegal enterprises I was feeling pretty good. When the total crossed a thousand arrests, and I felt like a data acquisition legend. The bad guys can hide their data trail, they can disguise their activities, but at some point their personal habits will always give them away.

After losing hundreds of operatives, someone was bound to wonder how we were doing it. They would begin to analyze the data themselves. Of course, I’m not an idiot. I know how to cover my tracks. My servers have masked IP addresses. Computer parts were purchased from different companies, and delivered to a collection of rented PO Boxes. But the electricity usage correlates to the increased computing power and was billed to a physical address. Heuristics would be the death of me.

So I began a pattern of remote computing, accessing the data over a wide area network. They could track the data back to the servers but not back to me. I covered my tracks, and enjoyed even more success. No longer did I have a fancy warehouse, but instead I had dozens of them. Meanwhile I actually did my work from home.

My boss asked me to find an arms dealer. They had no idea where he was or what he looked like. But they knew where he grew up. I felt like a genius when I was able to draw a heuristic profile that would definitively find him based on spending patterns. He was arrested in Amsterdam after buying a cinnamon and raisin bagel, a cup of espresso made with Kona beans, and watching a world cup game in an internet café.

I celebrated by going out and getting a diet orange soda and a snickers bar. It was the same way I had been celebrating since I was back in the original warehouse. It was much like the heuristic I had used to catch the arms dealer. This thought occurred to me as I saw a pair of black SUVs pull up in front of the house. They could be Homeland Security, except they aren’t speaking English. That is definitely the wrong heuristic.

Heuristics will be the death of me.

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